“When I look at success stories of people who passed it on, got the Starling experience and they take it and pay it forward to another generation of kids, to me, those are our biggest success stories.” 
— Starlings executive director Tod Mattox 

In 1996, Byron Shewman had an idea.

He saw that the economically disadvantaged were underserved by the elite-club volleyball structure. Shewman believed that club volleyball needed to be more affordable to more segments of the population.

So he founded Starlings.

It began with Lincoln High School in San Diego as the base. There with 10 girls and his assistant coach was former national-team player Kim Oden. Now, 22 years later, his idea now serves more than 2,500 kids nationwide and last week Starlings celebrated.

The 20th-annual Starlings National Championship was held at San Diego City College, just five miles from where it all began. The championships featured 121 teams in four divisions from 12s to 18s, along with keynote speaker Alisha Glass, the former Penn State All-American and Olympian who was named best setter in the USA’s first World Championship gold-medal victory in 2014.

Shewman, comfortably recovering from heart surgery, was unable to attend, but is proud of what Starlings, now a national program, has accomplished.

“We’re really one of the biggest clubs in the nation,” Starlings executive director Tod Mattox said. “We have about 50 teams in San Diego, another hundred teams in L.A. and Arizona, and the rest sprinkled across the nation.”

It would be a mistake to measure Starlings purely by size, because the club is really about opportunity, Mattox said.

“Starlings is all about opportunity and giving opportunity and trying to get them all of the advantages and privileges that this sport provides, but because of the financial component, it doesn’t work in a lot of places, so we’re trying to give those kids opportunities to play who otherwise might not play,” Mattox said.

“The club programs are getting more and more expensive, and we’re trying to say ‘Hey, we’re trying to do it in an affordable way, so we don’t exclude anybody.’ ”

To keep the clubs economically accessible, Starlings seeks cost-cutting measures while providing an excellent club experience, Mattox said.

“There’s no real cookie-cutter model, but for example, in San Diego, we have a four-month season. The season is shorter, March through June, so we’re able to get in after basketball season, sneak in after basketball and get a little gym time. We charge between $300 and $600 for that experience. Some of the more elite clubs in the area can pay $5,000-$10,000 for their season, sometimes more with all of the travel.

“ … This is a great sport, a great sport for young women. I think Alisha Glass was wonderful in her keynote speech, talking about everything it gave her as a player, and it made me think, that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to include everybody, and not just kids that live in affluent neighborhoods.”

Because the core values of Starlings are different than most clubs, it probably won’t surprise you that success is measured differently as well.

“When you think of success stories, most people think of college scholarships. And sure, we’ve had our share of those. We have a girl in Arizona, Jayda Bree, that just made the (USA) High Performance team. She’ll be traveling to Dallas in July to play representing Starlings, so that’s exciting for us.

“But to me, the success stories are the players that come back and coach. Right now, April Clermont is in Tuba City, Arizona. She played for Starlings, she coaches for Starlings, and now she directs a five-team club on a Navajo reservation in Arizona.”

Interestingly, if a player gets good enough, they often leave Starlings for a more elite club.

“If the kids get really good, our motto is, they probably get better opportunities playing with better competition at other clubs. So a lot of them push on to better clubs, and for us, that’s good,” Mattox said.

“We don’t say, ‘Oh, they’re ripping off our players.’ We say ‘Hey, we’ve given the kids an opportunity, and now, other clubs are scholarshipping them, and they can help out that club, better themselves, and go to college, that’s great.’ That’s not really our niche. Our niche is, ‘Hey, I would never have had the opportunity to play volleyball if it wasn’t for Starlings.’ ”

20th Annual Starlings Results
U18 Gold Bracket
Sharings U18 gold champions: Indianapolis
1. Indianapolis 18 Gold Champion (25-23,26-28,15-7)
2. Tuba City Barlow
3. Tijuana
4. Palmdale 18s
T5. Tuba City Clairmont
T5. Watsonville
T7. High Desert Blue
T7. Cudahy 18 Black
9. Shonto 18
10. Oak Hills
11. Omaha Monique
12. Salton Sea
13. Omaha Shannon 18 Bronze Champion
14. South Mountain Vipers
15. 4 Corners
16. Eagle Rock
17. San Benito PBAA
18. San Gabriel
19. San Diego Navajo Dennis
20. Eastlake Jill
21. City of LA 18-2 18 (Flight 1 Division Champion)
22. Ridgecrest
23. Central Valley
24. City of LA 18-1
25. San Diego City Rachelle 18 (Flight 2 Division Champion)
26. Palmdale 17s
27. Tehachapi
28. San Fernando
29. Bakersfield 18 (Flight 3 Champion)
30. High Desert Red
31. Mountain Empire
32. Spring Valley
33. South Central
34. San Diego Navajo Luch
35. High Desert Chris
36. Eastlake Ken
U16 Gold Bracket
Starlings-U16-Shonto-National Championship
Starlings U16 gold champions Shonto, back -to-back U16 winners as well as 2017 U14 champions/Starlings photo
1. Shonto 16 Gold Champion (20-25, 25-17, 15-11)
2. City of LA 16-1
3. Cudahy 16 Red
4. Austin
T5. Tuba City Blackhat
T5. High Desert Angel
7. Omaha Erin 16
8. San Gabriel Bringas
9. Oak Hills  (Silver champion)
10. Tehachapi
11. Ridgecrest
12. City of LA 16-1
13. South Central 16 (Bronze Champion)
14. Cudahy 16 Blue
15. San Diego Navajo Lauren
16. Clairemont
17. Cudahy 16 Black
18. Copper Champion
18. Diana 18 Palmdale 16-1
19. Omaha Jamie 16 (Copper Champion)
20. Nashville
21. South Mountain Blazers
22. Indianapolis
23. Cedar Rapids 16 (Flight 1 Division Champion)
24. San Diego Navajo Alexis
25. Watsonville
26. San Diego City Emily
27. Mission Bay 16 (Flight 2 Division Champion)
28. City of LA 16-3
29. Palmdale 16-2
30. Madison 15s
31. Saddleback 16 (Flight 3 Champion)
32. Eastlake Valerie
33. Toledo
34. Madison 16s
U14 Gold Bracket
Starlings-National Champions-U14-Gold-City of Los Angeles
Starlings U14 Gold champions City of Los Angeles
14’s Division
1. City of LA 14-1 (Gold Champion)
2. San Benito Summit
3. Watsonville
4. San Diego Navajo Ken
5. Dallas (14 Silver Champion)
6. Palmdale 14-1
7. San Benito PGMK
8. Oceanside
9. 4 Corners 14-2 (14 Bronze Champion)
10. Cudahy 14 Red
11. Tuba City Kiyaani
12. Eastlake Ron
13. Clairemont (14 Copper Division Champion)
14. 4 Corners 14-1
15. Salton Sea
16. Tuba City Lee
17. San Diego Navajo Nichole (14 Flight 1 Champion)
18. Indianapolis
19. Tuba City Colorado
20. Mission Bay Mahyma
21. San Diego Navajo Lisa
22. Ridgecrest Diamonds
23. South Central (14 Flight 2 Champion)
24. City of LA 14-2
25. San Diego Navajo Morea
26. Tehachapi
27. San Diego Navajo Matt
28. High Desert
29. Eastlake Rocco (14 Flight 3 Champion)
30. Eastlake Clarissa
31. City of LA 14-3
32. Starlings RB
33. Nestor
34. Ridgecrest Tigers
35. Palmdale 14-2 14 (Flight 4 Division Champion)
36. San Diego City Lawrence
37. San Diego Navajo Cianna
38. Eastlake Brant
U12 Gold Bracket
Starlings-national championships-Shunto
U12 gold 1st place Shunto and 2nd place San Gabriel/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
12’s Division
1. Shonto 12 Gold Champion (25-12,25-19)
2. San Gabriel Rebecca
3. City of LA 12-1
4. Tehachapi
5. 4 Corners 12 (Silver Champion)
6. San Diego Navajo Gretchen
7. Cudahy
8. City of LA 12-2
9. Salton Sea 12 (Bronze Champion)
10. San Diego Navajo Beth
11. Eastlake Carolan
12. San Diego Navajo Natalie
13. Eastlake Jasmin
Starlings-Literary-Art-National Tournament
Some of the Literary/Art winners/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
Winner: Grace Rotermund – Omaha
Gold: Kim Hallway – Mission Bay
Gold: Danika Wanish – Madison
Gold: Maya Szestowicki – Mission Bay
Silver: Kailani Griffis – Mission Bay
Silver: Morgan DeSargant – COLA
Silver: Ashley Stokes – Mission Bay
Silver: Cassandra Palanca – Mission Bay
Winner: Kayla Ngo – Mission Bay
Gold: Madison Hulburt – Oak Hills
Gold: Madison Johnston – Mission Bay
Silver: Felicia Opsah – Omaha
Silver: Kiann Wilcher – Columbia
Silver: Ily Attinger – Clairemont
Silver: Erin Young – COLA

The full gallery of photos from the opening ceremonies can be found here.

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